Monday, February 24, 2003

A Question Bound To Irk People

I'm sure I will get flames for this, but I think it's worth thinking about: does just war theory support a preemptive strike by Saddam in order to protect his country from attack by the United States? I would suggest that the case, frankly, is probably stronger (on the imminence prong at least) for preemptive action by Saddam than the U.S. Now before I get a bunch of mindless flames, such as, "Well, that proves Just War theory is junk!", here is my point. If you are for preemptive war when there is no imminent threat, you really ought to think about what other restraints you are putting in the system in its place. Maybe thinking about the facts from this viewpoint will help bring that home.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Dynamic vs. Static

I know it seems like I am the token anti-war apologist in St. Blog's. (Apologies to McGuinness, but I like the term for shorthand.) I post on the possibilities for war for two reasons: (1) because I'm trying to work out my own thoughts on the subject, and (2) I'm trying to raise questions that I fear many aren't considering when they reach their own conclusions about whether war with Iraq is justified.

It shouldn't need repeating, but I think there are reasonable arguments on both sides of the issue. Personally, for me the concerns raised in the "Nuclear Question" post below weigh too heavily on my mind to put me on the pro-war side of the fence right now. No one has shown me an alternative restraint on war once we reduce the "certain" portion of "grave, lasting and certain" down so it can be met with a mere hypothetical threat. And no one has taken me up on my first post by trying to address the other planks of just war doctrine to reduce my uneasiness.

At the end of the day, I don't expect pro-war folks to agree with me. But I would like to see them make their case more persuasively. So I throw out another consideration that I fear is being overlooked: just war analysis is dynamic not static. I've gotten the sense from some that once they concluded that war would be justified they have shut out the possibility -- particularly in evaluating the likelihood of success and proportionality planks -- that new circumstances might develop that make war unjust. Consider, for example, these recent reports that Iran has moved troops into Iraq and that the war might be fought without a Northern front if Turkey sticks to its guns and the U.S. doesn't seek a second U.N. resolution (or offer the aid package Turkey wants). Without Turkey in an alliance, you can expect the Kurds to push for an independent state for the Northern territories, something bound to spur protests and tension from Turkey and Iran. My point isn't to suggest that any of these facts are the smoking gun that kills the pro-war position. But it is worth noting that just war analysis cannot be a one-time calculus. Stories like these should go to our re-evaluation of whether success and proportionality don't argue against war.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Before I Leave For My Business Trip

Let me bring to your attention to the Association of Students at Catholic Colleges and their blog. I received an email from their President, Tom Harmon, who asked if I could put the word out. It looks like a good endeavor, and as I owe much of my growth in faith to Protestant campus organizations, I'm eager to support Catholic ones. That said, I do wonder if a bit of a glut is forming. Besides ASCC, there is Fellowship of Catholic University Students and Compass, a group I was briefly involved in getting started. (I just noticed that they have redone their website and the materials I wrote for them "Resources For Law Students" is gone. So the link to the left is broken for now.) Maybe these groups could all benefit from some interaction.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Last War Post For Now

For those of you who follow Integrity -- are there any such people these days? -- you know that I've been thinking about this just war question a lot. Same today. In part, because I've been wondering if I was too testy in an email to Emily Stimpson and over on Mark Shea's site earlier today. If I was, I apologize to both of them.

But I've been bothered by a trend that I've seen recently. When talk of a conflict with Iraq began, most of St. Blog's, I would say, approached the idea with caution. There was a flurry of debate then around the unilateral question. But you got the impression that everyone saw this as a difficult question. Now that many are convinced that war is necessary (not everyone is making the argument that it meets just war standards, but most are), some have lost sight that, although the case that Saddam is a bad man and an oppressive dictator may be overwhelming, the case for war against Saddam (especially invasion and regime change) isn't cut and dry. I readily recognize that my doubts about whether action would be just may be wrong. Why pro-war types can't do the same is baffling to me.

So when several people, including some bloggers I respect quite a bit, took the "I can't believe you aren't convinced!" approach to responding to me or took a cheap shot like Mark's comment that the idiocy of war opponents is a compelling argument for the pro-war side, frustration grew. (As an aside, I recognize Mark was being sarcastic. There are plenty of idiots on the anti-war side. I don't deny that. But how long do you think it would take me on google to find a group advocating that we raze or nuke Bagdahd? Idiocy isn't limited to one side of this.) Frankly, even if I was for the war, I would think that it was part of my Catholic duty, in pursuing and hoping for peace, to seriously consider arguments against the war. You don't have to be convinced by them.

Other examples have bugged me. Take this piece by David Frum. Scroll down to the description of Jessica Matthews' alternative to invasion, which is a combination of limited military strikes and increased diplomatic and inspection efforts. Here's Frum's "analysis":

Saddam stays in power forever; we bomb and strafe Iraq forever. We’d inflict hundreds, maybe thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties – present ourselves to the Arab world as an imperialist power of occupation – and all without loosening Saddam’s grip on power, without offering the Iraqi people any hope for a better life, and without discrediting Saddam-style radical Arab politics. Mathews has brilliantly managed to find a way for the United States to suffer every single one of the risks and disadvantages of an Iraq war – while forgoing any hope of gaining any of the benefits of victory. If this is the best alternative (and it almost certainly is), then let the invasion begin!"
How convenient. He just assumes that every bad result that could happen will. I could do the same about an invasion and a regime change. For once, I would like some who take a pro-war/invasion/regime-change position admit that we are all speculating about the consequences that will flow. It seems unfair to grant every positive result when talking about invasion but assume every negative one for other options. Stopping short of regime change and invasion hardly constitutes appeasement or inaction. Who said that we should be sitting on our hands if we don't invade?

Of course, today Novak's piece was published. Personally, I was disappointed . I had been hoping he would give me a nugget that I hadn't heard yet to get me over my question about the imminence prong. He didn't. It was well written, but nothing new.

I think Robert Gotcher captures it right in his summary of Novak's argument, which is basically what I discussed in my post on "The Nuclear Question" below: the hypothetical possibility that Saddam could attack us with WMD, because of the vast amount of damage that that would inflict, outweighs the fact that our evidence (i) isn't clear on how close Saddam is to actually having WMD and (ii) is based on broad assumptions and speculation that Saddam would use such weapons if he had them. Now maybe this is all fine in the case of Saddam. But I'm looking for some principles for accepting that rationale and understanding where the brakes are in the system now being proposed for determining whether the threatened damage is grave, lasting, and certain. Maybe it's in all the little bits that people littany about how evil Saddam is. Clearly, there is something about his regime and how close he may be to achieving WMD that is making people overlook that they are advocating overthrowing another nation's government by force on a speculative harm (as serious as it might be). But can you articulate the case succintly so we can apply the principle to the next situation?

Sunday, February 09, 2003

The Nuclear Question

I've reflected some on my discussions of yesterday with "Bobbert" (see entry below) and on this article by George Weigel. In that article, Weigel reflects on what constitutes reaching the "last resort" when dealing with the threat of nuclear attack.

I think Weigel makes a very valid point when he suggests that if “last resort” "is to have real meaning for statesmen, just war theorists can’t think of 'last resort' mathematically, as the terminus of a potentially infinite sequence of possibilities." I wholeheartedly agree. It is part of what I find completely bothersome with much of European diplomatic efforts. It isn't that they are more cautious and the U.S. too cavalier about the prospects of war. In reality, they tend to come across as incapable of recognizing practical limitations to diplomatic efforts. Even just war theory as captured by the Catechism doesn't ignore this, for it says that all other means must have been shown to be impractical or inneffective. In my view, that doesn't mean that we must try everything and have it all fail. It leaves room for a judgement, based on the significant diplomatic endeavors that have been tried, for a reasonable person to conclude that further efforts are not going to result in success. I agree with all of that.

Weigel makes a more interesting argument later in the article. Speaking about the Israeli operation to destroy Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor in 1981, Weigel writes:

"The moral and political rationale Israel’s leaders gave for acting when they did is also worth pondering. In circumstances like this, the Israelis argued, “last resort” cannot mean waiting until after the Iraqis have a nuclear weapon, and then trying to prevent their using it when they’re about to do so. Failure under those circumstances is too awful to risk. Therefore, the Israelis argued, when one is dealing with a man like Saddam Hussein, a regime like Iraq’s (in which there is no internal constraint on the dictator’s will), nuclear weapons (or other weapons of mass destruction), and ballistic missiles (or possible use of the weapons by terrorists), “last resort” is reached at the point where there is no option left but to forcibly deny the aggressor the possibility of obtaining the weapons, before he gets them."
Essentially, this was the argument that "Bobbert" was making yesterday. It's a nonproliferation argument only, given that there are already countries we don't like that possess nuclear technology and a definite threat of its sale to others or terrorists (which we may or may not be able to stop). The argument says, however, that when it comes to certain regimes preemption before they obtain the bomb is necessary because either (1) there's sufficient evidence that they will use it if they get it or (2) the damage that will result is so great that it outweighs even a small probability that the weapon would be used.

Now, clearly this doesn't circumvent the imminence requirement altogether. If the circumstances in 1981 weren't that the French were so close to having Osiraq nuclear reactor on-line for Iraq, but that they were teaching Iraqi scientists nuclear physics at Bagdahd University, I doubt Weigel would be offering up the Israeli attack as a possible example of a just war action. However, what Weigel does suggest, as did "Bobbert", is that the magnitude of damage that a nuclear bomb can cause suggests that intent to use isn't critical to establishing imminence or can be imputed from the nature of the regime. Naturally, I'm not entirely comfortable with this, because it is getting further and further away from objective evidence for the threat to subjective evaluations of the threat based on broadly drawn assumptions. And it brings us more and more into the realm of a hypothetical threat (because the weaponry hasn't been achieved yet) and out of the realm of an existing threat. But there is a point to be had in this.

My question is this: how would you determine that you are dealing with such a regime? Give me more than just something like "led by a dictator". Weigel offers some ideas, but I would like to see what others come up with. Certainly, some moral theologians had to have said something useful to this during all the years of the Cold War. We may be in a new era in some terms, but nuclear weaponry wasn't invented yesterday.

Similarly, I would like to know what weapons would you be willing to accept this "before acquisition" rationale? Just nuclear weapons? Biological and chemical? Dirty Bomb? High quantities of C-4?

Let me know your thoughts.

P.S. Bobbert, if you are reading this, feel free to drop me an e-mail. Given that we work in the same field, I wouldn't mind saying hello without the pseudonyms.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

These Questions Aren't Easy

Mark Shea's blog has been having a pretty active discussion of the impending Iraq war at this comments box. Just to show how there are serious arguments on both sides I thought I would post some links to an exchange between "Bobbert" and myself:

Here are the some ten posts in their chronological order. Not easy to say where the stronger argument rests. Both of us are attempting to find the right path through this. In the end, probably a stark reminder of why not to place your trust in this world, because it is ultimately fleeting.

On The Impending War With Iraq

A lot of discussion has been happening around St. Blog's about the impending war with Iraq. (Yes, although I am hopeful it can still be avoided, I suspect military action will start in March.) Apparently, I am in the distinct minority in not being convinced that this war action would be just.

Notice I said just. I didn't say inevitable, necessary, or any of the other words that I've seen floated around. It is my view that if you can't get over the "just" hurdle, then you don't get to the rest of the question.

I have seen a lot of bad reasoning out there, and some sloppy reasoning by people I respect. This is a prudential matter, so I recognize there will be disagreement. But at least be clear about why you are convinced that war against Iraq now would be just. You aren't convincing otherwise. Personally, I think the best way to talk about war is by using the tools of just war theory, both because it is a Catholic perspective recognized by the Church and helps focus one's thoughts and avoid kitchen-sink, gestalt-style arguments.

For those not familiar with the principles of just war theory, here's a summary of the Catechism's presentation:

  • the damage that will be inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain (this is the "imminence" requirement)

  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective

  • there must be serious prospects of success

  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

  • Now, before we continue let me state that the proper authority for making the prudential judgment that these conditions have been met "belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good." That is, in this country, the President and the Congress. (People -- and our government -- tend to ignore that constitutional sticking point.) So I readily admit that at the end of the day, even though I might not see the evidence for action against Iraq meeting these criteria, the President and the Congress might. This might be due to them having more evidence at their disposal or just legitimate differences in the weight that we give to the different pieces of evidence.

    Some have suggested that I should trust Bush on this -- he was elected to make these hard decisions for us -- and not be too serious about my analysis. That would be okay if at the end of the day (a) Bush wasn't asking me to support his decision to wage war and (b) I didn't have the responsibility for evaluating Bush's judgment in this matter and how it reflects on a judgment as to whether I should support him for re-election. To take my duties seriously, I need to know how I would analyze the evidence, albeit recognizing that there may be some legitimate grey areas in which reasonable people can reach different prudential conclusions.

    To me, people let the fact that they are not the governmental authority let them off the hook of thinking things through. These aren't easy matters. It isn't a 2+2=4 situation. Judgment calls need to be made and based on imperfect information. A lot of people are uncomfortable doing that. So they just avoid the tough questions.

    So, here's my view of things based on just war theory. My stumbling block is on the question of imminence. I recognize the reality of Saddam's regime. Although I hate arguments based on bad man characterizations, I fully recognize that Saddam's regime is oppressive and that his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is scary. I suspect Saddam is friendly with terrorists and willing to use terrorists to accomplish his goals. But I haven't seen the evidence to demonstrate that the U.S. is facing an imminent threat that is impractical to address through other means.

    There is a reason why the Catechism asks for a lasting, grave and certain threat. It recognizes that the world is fallen and that there will always be threats to nations. I've heard a lot of comments that 9/11 has changed the world. Nonsense. It has only changed our awareness of the real state of the world. Too many people have lived under the illusion that because something hasn't happened it can't happen. Many still do, not capable of imagining the U.S. as anything but a Superpower that the rest of the world fears to challenge. The other competing illusion is the idea that there is something akin to perfect safety. No matter how many security measures we put in place, no matter how many terrorists we arrest or wars we prosecute, we will never be able to eliminate every threat. This shouldn't mean we accept defeat or avoid doing what we can do to mitigate threats, but it does mean we should be realistic about what we can accomplish and let that enter our analysis of when war is justified.

    Yes, assymetric warfare and nuclear proliferation change the amount of damage that small groups, unassociated with a specific country, can cause. But to say that this makes just war theory obsolete is to avoid the moral questions altogether. Personally, I accept the rationale that a preemptive war can be legitimately defensive if targeted against threatened aggression. However, it also poses problems. By demanding war be defensive, we can rely on some objective measures for determining the truthfulness of a country's claim that their actions were defensive. Was war declared upon them? Were they attacked? Was an opposing army on an invasion path? When you move into the preemptive realm, you find yourself in a realm more prone to pretext and disguise. Is aggression really threatened? To me, the concerns about the first point of just war theory are heightened in modern times not lessened. People also need to understand the difference between an imagined or hypothetical threat and an actual threat. One asks if the scenario is possible. The other asks how probable is the scenario. If you are a pro-war advocate, make sure you are focusing on the latter.

    Going back to the question of imminence, I just haven't seen the evidence for it with regard to Iraq right now. North Korea, China, former Yugoslavia, Iran, Syria and others are threats. North Korea is actively telling us that it is developing a nuclear program. It is widely known as one of the biggest sores in the battle against nuclear proliferation, with its No-Dong missiles and willingness to arm anyone for a buck. The former Yugoslavia is now a major proliferation problem too with their technology and military experts selling their services. (Speculation exists about links to Iraq too.) China's internal military leaders haven't been shy about their view that war with the U.S. is coming. Iran and Syria both have significant terrorism connections. They are all threats, but in each of those cases we don't see them as significant enough or imminent enough to justify war (or, possibly, that war against them would be too difficult or unsucessful). But Iraq is treated differently and for the life of me I don't see where the evidence establishes why they are such a threat to us now that policies of containment and embargo, etc., cannot address.

    The U.S's argument has been based on pursuit of WMD and a distrust of Saddam. I readily agree that this is troubling, but I wonder where the imminence is in this. We have WMD, so the possession of them alone can't be the basis or we are laying the groundwork for justifying action against us. To me it's unclear whether we are really saying it's a problem with respect to Iraq on the basis of what we know he intends to do with those weapons versus that we don't like his regime and would be happier if he didn't have them. At the end of the day, there will be regimes that we don't like that have nuclear weapons. (There already are.) We need to lean more towards basis in reasonable predictions of action if we are going to avoid creating a case for ideologically based preemptive strikes. Assume Saddam has WMD. Is it really an option for him to use them? Why is deterrence theory -- which we used with the Soviet Union -- not applicable to Saddam? Are we assuming he's an irrational actor and isn't deterred by what Israel would do to protect itself?

    Al Qaeda link evidence helps me become more comfortable with the idea that war may be just. It isn't because of a guilt by association, but because we have significant evidence that Al Qaeda is an imminent and continuing threat to us. I'm glad to see that Powell presented some evidence of a link, but it was strikingly sparse. And he omitted troubling details such as the fact that the Al Qaeda presence in Iraq is in Kurdish territory. (I would say Kurdish-"controlled", but that somewhat overstates the reality of "rule" in that region of Iraq.) It's true that this faction seems to be pro-Saddam, but otherwise the fact that it is in territory that we argue isn't controlled by Saddam cuts against it as evidence for the war. Still, in my mind, this is the closest the administration has come to making a case for imminence. I'm just unwilling to stretch the "supporting and aiding" terrorists concept too far. Hopefully, we will see more evidence on this front. (Well, actually, I hope for peace, but if there is to be war, I hope for more convincing evidence that it is justified.)

    But I'm willing to admit that I can be wrong in my analysis. Accordingly, I've tried to seek comfort by seeing pro-war types address the third and fourth points of just war theory: that success is likely and that war won't bring about greater evils. I've asked pro-war types to do three things: (1) define their goals with regard to Iraq (i.e., destruction of WMD, regime change, etc.); (2) define their war plan and how it accomplishes these goals; and (3) define their exit strategy (i.e., plans for sustained success over the long term). Unfortunately, no one is offering anything on this point. I have even been criticized for making the demand, being told that citizens shouldn't have to be war or diplomacy experts. This is silly. I'm not demanding that people prepare the Joint Chiefs battle plan for them, but all citizens should be thinking about these questions in general terms. To not do so is to avoid thinking about the consequences of their decision to support the war effort. It leaves things at the level of focusing on our fears and the dangers to us, with a generic "war solves" as the answer. Is it really that wrong to ask for definition of the goals of any war effort (so we can determine later when the mission has been achieved) and, if regime change is planned, hints at who will replace Saddam or how we will go about establishing a process for building a successor government?

    Asking people to focus on these war-conduct and war-consequences points is not a ruse for saying that war with Iraq cannot be justified. It seems a reasonable request in response to definite concerns that we may not really be meeting the "imminence" prong. If we can't demonstrate a plan for how we can accomplish the battle with limited loss of life and damage to the region and mitigate the threats of Iraqi WMD and establish a sustainable friendly regime in Iraq, should we really ignore the signs that maybe the threat is too ambiguous right now to justify invasion? I worry that people don't want to address these questions because they don't want to expose how much of their reason for supporting the war effort isn't based on any of the just war theory points but on the basis that they don't expect many U.S. casualties in the battle portion of the war and Saddam has been demonized (albeit understandably so). I can make two comments on that point that I think are fairly indisputable: (1) just as we learned from the Gulf War, so did Saddam -- it will be more bloody, even if still overwhelmingly in our favor; (2) winning the war-phase of the battle isn't ultimate victory. Long-term success seems unclear to me. If regime change is the goal, who will replace Saddam? Most focus on the Kurds, but they are a minority, there are various factions (some with links to Al Qaeda) and they raise concerns with respect to Turkey's interests in Iraq, which almost certainly are going to be part of some deal because we need Turkey's air bases. Same with Iran's interests and Syria's renewed common ties with Iraq. A path to a regime that we will like doesn't seem clear.

    Two more points. When pushed a lot of pro-war types point to the benefits of liberation that would come to the Iraqi people. Yes, the Iraqi people would be better off without Saddam. If we were proposing to provide military help to Iraqi people in a just insurrection against an evil regime, I would probably be onboard the bandwagon. But can we admit that (a) that's not a correct characterization of the war as proposed, and (b) there are no public signs that there is a real rebel movement in place? If that changes over the coming weeks, I'd be all for that. But I am wary of arguments that rely entirely on the United States as a proxy for the citizens of Iraq wanting to overthrow Saddam. And, although I would be more comfortable with that rationale than the administration's current one from certain perspectives, it is a highly interventionist foreign policy and quite contrary to claims that we aren't in the nation-building business. Similarly, I've seen a lot of people focus on the agreements to cease the Gulf War and various UN resolutions. Fine. But let's recognize that not every contract should be enforced, in this case through war. And I think it is incumbent to demonstrate that the terms of those resolutions were just. Just because a nation lost a war doesn't mean it doesn't retain rights.

    I invite those who are in favor of the war to try to address some of these concerns in the comment boxes below.

    Wednesday, February 05, 2003

    American Idol 2

    Okay, I think I am going to have to start posting predictions, because the two that I figured would get through to the next round did: Julie DeMato and Charles Grigsby. For the record, I voted for Charles. He's got a great voice. Now how could anyone think that Kimberly would win over Julie. (Face facts, folks -- they both have good voices, but Julie has a bit more .. shall we say .. up front. Come on, you know it made a difference. Since when was pop music just about the voice?)